In the last installments of Urban Life, Urban Life #2, we looked at some normative reasons for cross-cultural conflict. This post will look at the last few reasons. This is Part 3 of a 4 part series on Cross-Cultural Conflict, the last installment will be about how we can handle these normative reasons for conflict and allow for better, more effective cross-cultural relations.
Another normative reason for conflict is time. Many cultures do not look at time the same way in which we do. In the West we are an “on time or 15 minutes early” culture, this is in no way the norm for two-thirds of the world. Having people in cross-cultural relationships can cause tension with time if they are unaware of the differences. In my own life, I have experienced events that happened to me that made me realize this fact, I share one below
About 5 years ago, one of my good friends asked me to be in his wedding. I gratefully accepted and drove about 1.5 hours to his wedding Friday Night. On Saturday morning, we groomsmen all got ready for the big day with our friend Craig (the groom). Once we were ready, we headed out to make sure everyone was on time and getting ready as well. As we were coming closer to the time of the wedding, we all started looking for the bride’s grandma. The wedding was about to start in 5 minutes and still no grandma; the bride’s uncle headed to grandma’s room to check on her. When he returned, he stated that Grandma was in the shower and would be right out. All of us Western folks cringed and strongly rejected this to be true. How could she be in the shower? That’s when the bride took us all aside and shared that her Mexican Grandma always takes the starting time as the time to begin getting ready and she (the bride) should have remembered that fact.
Time is relative to your culture, even though that sounds ludicrous to us Westerners, it’s a fact of life for many of the two-thirds world. My Black friends have similar time issues and are usually late for meetings, appointments, and even church. When I asked my friend about this, he said: “it’s CPT (Colored People Time) my brother it’s not you, it’s just my culture”. At first I thought this was a convenient excuse to be late but as I got to know my friend who I now consider a true brother I knew this was not the case, his clock was just simply set to a different time than mine due to the culture with which he grew up.
Originally, this was not one of the normative reasons for conflict I was going to write about, but after reading Cross Cultural Conflict I realized that if I were going to position this paper at dealing with cross-cultural conflict in a church perspective, this better be in there. Again, I am amazed at my assumptions. I arrogantly thought that I had an advantage at the idea of cross-cultural work because of where I am positioned. Do I have experience here? Yes, but my experience hasn’t been broad enough to span the full scope of the issue…not even close!
My assumption was that each culture hears the message of God in similar ways. Yeah sure there had to be minor tweaks here and there in order to be understood and heard but to completely over-haul the tactic in which one shares the gospel? I thought it unnecessary. Elmer again pointed to my arrogance: “When Westerners are trying to communicate the gospel to people who are sensitive to shame, they need to shift gears and express biblical truths differently from what they have been used to” (Elmer, 1993, pg. 138). This hit me pretty hard as it shattered my long held assumption and the funny part is that I had no idea this blind-spot in my intercultural mindset was even there.
Further in the reading of Elmer he says: “This tactic [personalizing John 3:16] is effective in an individual culture, where personalizing is important and understood. In group-oriented societies, though, focusing on an individual can be dangerous-especially if such focus exposes shame, failure or shortcoming” (Elmer, 1993, pg. 138). This was harder to take because I realized I always personalized John 3:16, I don’t ever remember using it as a group-oriented discussion piece. We have to change the way we think and preach as people of Faith in Jesus hoping to reach multi-ethnic people, we simply can’t leave these blind spots vulnerable.
Most of this series is based off of a research paper that was done on the topic of Cross-Cultural Conflict, yet as we seek to look at Urban Life together, I think these findings are key to understanding why sometimes our interactions with others of different cultures can and will cause conflict. When you talk about Urban Life you are talking about different people congregating in one small area, so, we must learn how to interact well with one another.